December 9, 2011

Have we reached saturation point in literary studies?


In the Chronicle Review, Mark Bauerlein writes about the issues involving literary scholarship and the hard road ahead for authors trying to be heard in a field awash with theses. He writes, “Because after four decades of mountainous publication, literary studies has reached a saturation point, the cascade of research having exhausted most of the subfields and overwhelmed the capacity of individuals to absorb the annual output. Who can read all of the 80 items of scholarship that are published on George Eliot each year? After 5,000 studies of Melville since 1960, what can the 5,001st say that will have anything but a microscopic audience of interested readers?”

Is literary scholarship suffering from inattention? If so, how do we remedy this fact? Should research be as much a part of a professor’s job duties as it is currently, or should we lessen the collective output because we’re just creating piles of paper to sit, often unread, in libraries? In the end, should universities just give up on the “publish or perish” model?

One publishing corollary might be the saturation of slush piles. What magazines even give them attention anymore besides The Paris Review and some smaller literary quarterlies? It’s a shame that no one can read them and respond to all submissions but the pile keeps growing and there’s just not enough time in the day to sort through them all, resulting in form letters and crushed dreams. But is it better to not accept unsolicited submissions at all? What do you think, readers?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts.